Lecture Series Explores Cultural Shifts in Music, Gender, and Sexuality

A new lecture series beginning this month combines the study of music with history, culture, and gender and sexuality. The series, entitled "Public Dissonance: A Lecture Series on Gender and Sexuality in Music," will bring to campus three scholars to discuss overlaps in the evolution of music with cultural shifts in sexual minority populations.

"By studying culture and music in this way, you show how the practice of music-making - from blues singers to the work of DJs and sound engineers-informs shifts in cultural consciousness," said Ross Fenimore '02, visiting assistant professor of music. He organized the lecture series with support from Mauro Botelho, associate professor and chair of music, Patricia Tilburg, associate professor of history and chair of Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Associate Professor Van Hillard, director of the College Writing Program.

"The Public Dissonance lecture series exemplifies the richness of gender and sexuality studies as an interdisciplinary field, and represents a tremendous contribution to our curriculum and intellectual life on campus," Tilburg said.

The series opens Thursday evening, October 24, with Alice Echols, director of the Center for Feminist Research and Barbra Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. Echols will discuss, in part, the ways in which the rise of disco triggered important strides in public identity and acceptance of the gay community in the 1970s.

On Tuesday, January 21, Mitchell Morris, Valentine Visiting Professor of Music at Amherst College, will discuss the role New York Times music critic Carl Van Vechten played as a patron of "queer" musicians of the Harlem Renaissance.

On Tuesday, March 18, Stephan Pennington, assistant professor at Tufts University, will discuss the social and political marginalization of transgendered women within the "women's music" genre beginning in the 1970s.

All lectures take place in Tyler Tallman Hall, in Sloan Music Center.

In addition to their public lectures, each speaker will host a lunch seminar for students and faculty with the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at the Carolina Inn.

"We already have a full house for the first seminar with Alice Echols featuring students and faculty from music, English, anthropology, history, and biology," Fenimore said. "By bringing to campus innovators of music curricula in gender and sexuality studies, the series enables students to impress our guests with their own exciting research at Davidson."

A musicologist himself, Fenimore's work on the cultural criticism of music often complements the study of other subjects. He said his Davidson adviser, Professor Neil Lerner, offered a key model for interdisciplinary music scholarship, and he was particularly inspired by an anthropology seminar on culture and sexuality led by Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus Grant D. Jones.

"It got me thinking about the connections between different subjects, and how studying music crosses many fields of inquiry," he said.

This is Fenimore's second year teaching at Davidson. Last year he taught a music course called "Queer Perspectives on Popular Music," in which his students studied the subcultural production of music from the late 19th through the 20th century. He said he hopes to continue to find more opportunities to explore the ways music research enhances the liberal arts experience, he said, and the "Public Dissonance" series is another way to do that.

"Fenimore's courses and his work to make this lecture series happen enhance Davidson's LGBTQ studies and the college's intellectual life," Tilburg said.


  • October 18, 2013